Corona at MakeProAudio – “The whole thing is still unfolding”: Frank shares insights

Thursday April 30, 2020 – Markus Erdmann, PR Manager for MPA, interviews Frank Hund, MPA founder, on his #homeoffice porch.

Markus: First of all – Are you healthy and is the rest of the MPA team doing well?

Frank: Thanks for your concern! I’m glad to say that everyone in our German team is doing just fine. After all, we’re not locked in and free to move around – taking into account, of course, the applicable distance regulations. I guess Germany is one of the better places to be in these times and our state manages to keep infection rates in check.

Our team in India is a lot less fortunate. They do suffer badly from an almost complete and very strict curfew. I mean, walk on the streets and literally get beaten up by police. Families have been separated, supplies are getting more and more difficult and then you are locked into your small place – they all feel like in prison. Worst of all, India is still in an exponential growth phase of infections even though a really strict lockdown in India has been in place for five weeks now. This is bad. There is no hope that the lockdown in India can be significantly lifted any time soon and people are becoming more desperate by the day. We are all very concerned and can only hope for the best.

Markus: Probably nobody would have foreseen such a crisis, including all its current effects. How exactly does this affect us at MPA?

Frank: I am asking myself that exact same question every day. It started around mid February. It is end of April now and I think I may have a few answers now – but I already had thought so earlier and had to wake up to a new reality again and again. The whole thing is still unfolding.

All the time, more bad news kept coming in like bomb blasts going off near and far. And all you do is continuously assessing damages and changing plans to move forward – and it just never stops! Until today it did not stop.

And what do you tell your customers in such situation? We kept drafting newsletter content as per current new status which turned all wrong and outdated whenever a new blast was hitting us. People want to know what is going on. But you don’t want to promise things which appear in jeopardy already the next day. What to say at all – very difficult. We ended up doing no newsletter for months. Not proud of that. We should have informed about the situation earlier for sure.

Markus: Do you still get all the parts you need? Are you currently able to manufacture everything?

Frank: We are lucky to produce locally. All our products and circuit boards are made locally in our local region in Germany. We assemble circuit boards by ourselves, we work with a local workshop for the handicapped, we work with local and a few european companies. Other companies which have production in China or elsewhere will likely have still much bigger issues than us.

But there are parts which we source from China direct. Initial delays started in January already when a chinese vendor notified us that he can ship only after the Chinese New Year due to quarantaine action from their government. These folks never returned from their New Year and we were able to reach them and speak to them again only recently, around mid April. But logistics from China is still screwed up. The last shipment – an express parcel from Shenzhen to Cologne – took almost three weeks after FedEx couldn’t fly it out from Hong Kong.

But it’s not just China. Our partner who manufactures all the beautiful metal aluminum tiles had multiple staff members quarantined since around mid February, effectively bringing his production to a full stop. And months of delay for us to get tiles metal in place. It is the sum of seemingly little things which create all the problems.

As for parts availability in the future – it is hard to say. Right now certain SHARC DSPs which we use in DinoPark are disappearing from the market – we managed to still secure some stock but the manufacturer is unable to predict when he can ship these again.

Markus: Which projects are currently delayed and when would these be completed?

Frank: Absolutely every project is affected. With every bomb blast we check the ship to evaluate damages to find a new plan avoiding the fallout. Do this twice or thrice a week and you feel like in free fall – getting not much done at all.

I mean… the almost incredible great news is that MakeHaus – the generic portion of the MPA Platform – is now actually shipping and in stock. Wouw! We had secured most of our stock months ago and with a lot of luck, we managed to pull in everything we required for the release. When finally the metal came in, we were ready.

DinoPark is a different story. We were well on track to release new DinoPark firmware with new plugins and the Dino Dials before end of March. And we were on track to ship the production version for Eurorack before start of Superbooth in April. Then it all started to happen and the sudden total lockdown in India was not only jailing our staff in their homes, also our Bangalore office with all our equipment and tools for embedded, DSP and hardware development is now out of bounds. Today we have to realize is that our office will still remain shut not for weeks but – likely – for months.

We have to give up on Dino Park related releases for now – we can not finalize these any time soon. We will now issue refunds to whichever customers have prepaid one of these parts and will try to compensate these users for the wait with a gift coupon for our online store. Dino Dials and Eurorack version are not cancelled, but we hope they will only be delayed until we are functional again, whenever that will be.

Oh, yet one more complication. We frequently send hardware prototypes back and forth between India and Germany. Since mid March there is no way to get anything into or out of India by air. DHL and the like do not service India anymore. That is a big problem for us.

Markus: We do not only offer “distributed” solutions, but are also a networked company. To what extent does the decentralized structure benefit you now in these times of crisis?

Frank: The more centralized a structure is, the more at risk it is. Like our centralized office in Bangalore. On the other side – whoever was working from home still is working from home today. Logistics is the only problem in that regard, but within Europe logistics are still functional. To cope better with all of this, we are now hiring for a few “work from home” positions in all areas – both R&D and customer facing.

Markus: What are you particularly grateful for in these times?

Frank: There is an air of solidarity and a sense of community in many places – I feel this clearly all around me in Germany. In times like these, solidarity and collaborative thinking is the one thing which will somehow pull us through.

Markus: How do you deal with the situation yourself? What was your funniest/most sad/weirdest Corona experience?

Frank: I’m fine, thanks. Not meeting friends and not going out anymore is not a loss anyone should complain about these days. I am fortunate to live in the countryside near Cologne with my family around me. We often go hiking with our dog – even more now since the lockdown. And work wise I was already mostly working from home for years. I am most sad when I see people going mental over the situation. Then again, if you ask Xabi our family dog, he naturally is in blissful ignorance of the situation and enjoys the extended time out. Corona will be writing all kinds of stories. Let’s just hope we as society can contain the damage.

Markus: What is your outlook? How will the crisis impact the future of MakeProAudio?

Frank: As we say in Germany – what does not kill you makes you stronger. Eventually things will stabilize again and our music and audio industry will take a roaring comeback. As terrible as these time are, a crisis is also a catalyst and opportunity for positive change and advancement.

More people will wake up to the fact that we have to work and think differently. Whole industries will have to re-invent themselves. And it does not make sense to return to backward concepts and old habits without reflection – we have to make sure the direction is right. And that is why my outlook is positive. I think that the things we do at MakeproAudio will be in increasing demand when the acute crisis is over.

In German, the key word is Nachhaltigkeit. It means that all we do should be sustainable. The ideas we promote at MakeProAudio are all about sustainability. We propagate collaborative community innovation and the empowerment of people to not only consume but to design and create powerful new solutions. Whereas the resulting innovation boost again benefits all consumers. A community-driven, modular system that can grow and change will never become obsolete. Things must finally be designed and evaluated for their sustained value and not for cheap quick consumption.